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The need for safety and ‘survival’ for those living in Halifax tent encampments

Click to play video: 'Fire safety in Halifax tent communities top of mind'
Fire safety in Halifax tent communities top of mind
It’s been an unsettling month for people living rough in the province. There have been multiple fires in tent encampments in recent weeks. Halifax Regional Municipality is trying to educate the community on fire safety. As Amber Fryday reports, regardless of the risk, some say they will continue to heat their tents with propane to stay warm during the winter months. – Dec 28, 2023

A fire at the tent encampment at Halifax’s Grand Parade this month highlights the dangers faced by those sleeping rough in the city.

Boo Stewart, who has experienced homelessness for the past few years, was among the three residents who narrowly escaped the flames.

Today, Stewart says he’s lucky to be alive, but admits he still heats his tent with propane.

“You got no other way to heat up a tent right. So what can you do?” he said.

The municipality has distributed fire safety education brochures and signs to multiple encampments, but advocate Matthew Grant says he doubts it will stop people from using propane heaters.

“These people are in survival mode,” he said.

Grant says volunteers have been working towards providing electricity to all the tents, and are waiting for municipal officials to inspect the work.

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“Hopefully they’ll sign off on it and that will give the occupants of the tents an opportunity with electricity to have a light in there, be able to charge their phone,” he said. “As far as heating, we we have no control over what occupants do inside of their tent. So they will do whatever they need to do in order to stay warm.”

Click to play video: 'Community members stepping up to keep Grand Parade tenters safe'
Community members stepping up to keep Grand Parade tenters safe

Meanwhile, Halifax’s director of homelessness, Max Chauvin, says the risk is not only with fires, but also carbon monoxide poisoning.

“So what we’ve done is place some signage up so that people can can can be aware of those risks,” said Chauvin.

He adds that he hopes a conversation can start so that the municipality can better understand what residents need.

“It’s a two way street to provide some education and to learn from them. So one of the things that we hope out of that dialogue is this opportunity for them to help us understand what they need to be safe, what they need to be comfortable,” he said.

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Stewart says he’d like to see more shelter options for the unhoused population, especially when he’s seen others get a spot before him.

He says he has no option but to stay in the tents, but calls the situation “brutal.”

“Your tent flies away sometimes in the storms … you wake up freezing in the middle of the night,” he said.

He adds that in many cases, people have ended up homeless “for reasons they didn’t like.”

“It’s uncontrollable for them. You know what I mean? Like they lost a job or got kicked out of their apartment or like (their)  family broke up,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Community living at Halifax’s Grand Parade reeling following death of man at tent encampment'
Community living at Halifax’s Grand Parade reeling following death of man at tent encampment

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